ONE-TO-ONE: MICHAEL MARCKX

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CANDID CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN VCPN’S BETH SCHLAU AND LEADING OPTICAL EXECUTIVES ABOUT THEIR PRODUCT STRATEGIES.
Michael Marckx, President and CEO of SPY Optic, has spent his entire career in the action sports world as an athlete and/or champion of brands. Prior to joining SPY early last year, he was the vice president of global marketing at Globe International, a company that owns and distributes apparel, footwear, and skate
hardgoods brands for the action sports and street fashion markets. Before that, Michael was the vice president of marketing and advertising with Ocean Pacific (Op) and Seven2, and held sports-related media positions in other companies. Here Michael talks about how SPY has changed its focus to have more of a West Coast sensibility.

Beth Schlau: How did you come to Spy?

Michael Marckx: Because of my background in marketing in the action sports industry, I was recruited to take on the role of vice president of marketing at Orange 21 to regain SPY’s standing and stability in the action sports eyewear market. I felt that what was needed was a point of view, a personality, and the proper presentation to convey this to the market in a compelling way. What became apparent was that the brand’s issues were far greater than a lack of marketing vision—SPY didn’t know what or who it was. An additional complication was that Orange 21 had licensed other non-action sports brands to the detriment of its most important asset, the SPY brand.

BS: How did you go about changing SPY’s DNA?

MM: I recommended creating a company with a vision toward aligning the SPY brand with its true promise—a lifestyle brand that transcends its current niche to serve a broader segment of the youth culture across music, fashion, performance, and action sports through an irreverent yet quality driven point of view. This meant focusing our energy on SPY. To that end, I was promoted to President and we hired Jim Sepanek to lead our charge into the ophthalmic market.

BS: How have you implemented the changes?

MM: First, through the leadership of a proven expert in Jim Sepanek, we launched into Rx with a uniquely SPY offering that has created a huge demand for our ophthalmic products and new distribution partners who are also now carrying our sunglasses. Second, we married our production capabilities with more SPY-centric, forward-fashion products along with technical features that create an undeniably unique collection of products. Third, we launched back into the performance category, a cornerstone of our brand’s heritage from its inception in 1994. Finally, we changed our marketing approach. We have a unified brand message that is being cleverly repeated across all consumer touch points, including TV, outdoor (buses, taxis, billboards), print, point-of-sales, online, and in film. In addition, we have a robust new Website, a new campaign being unveiled in February, and new product collections that are direct extensions of our new brand proposition.

BS: What was behind the decision to go into the ophthalmic market?

MM: In addition to our core demographic of youthful action sports enthusiasts is a group of SPY consumers who are older in age, but young in spirit and are increasingly in need of vision correction. And the opportunity to develop relationships with 6,000 new accounts in the optical category was very compelling. Through these new doors we’ll find new SPY consumers with whom we can share our branded point of view about life and about vision. Having the Rx collection gives us a great reason to exist in practices that carry both Rx and sunwear. In almost every case where we place the Rx collection, the account has been excited to take on our sunglass collection as well.

BS: Are there any new technological advances in the works?

MM: We have a couple of extremely important technological features we are developing now—one is in the goggle category and the other is in the sunglass realm. These two advances will be the most dramatic examples of the new SPY brand, and will serve our mission and vision as no other product ever has. In addition, a major priority is the development of a proprietary lens technology so that patients requiring an Rx can enjoy the same SPY visual experience as those who don’t need a correction.

BS: What future product strategies are you developing?

MM: Our most important product strategy for next year is the rollout of our Foundation collection, available only to select retailers starting in the spring. It’s our most significant, game-changing initiative for the core brand and is aimed at our better distribution accounts and new hip boutique doors. The collection will launch with seven new styles, all of which are handmade acetate with custom details and packaging. It’s a vintage-inspired collection and will be supported by a cast of athletes, artists, and personalities that will tell our reinvention story. Launching this collection will reinforce SPY as a forward-thinking, core brand, and will be heavily marketed in endemic, mainstream, and lifestyle media.

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